Biography of Nicolás de Cusa (1401-1464)

Philosopher and mathematician German, also called the Cusano. Crucial figure of the stage of transition between the middle ages and the Renaissance that amidst the turbulence and uneasiness was able to keep the clairvoyance to decant the truth in the novel. It is considered by some as the initiator of the modern German philosophy.

Life and works.

Nicolás de Cusa came from the city that gave him (Kues, Cusa), latin name for which is also known as El Cusano; He was born in 1401. He was educated in Deventer, with the brothers of the common life, assimilating its neoplatonic mysticism. In Heidelberg he was contacted by the nominalism of Occam. Then he studied law, medicine and mathematics at Padua, and in Cologne came into contact with the thought of Alberto Magno and Tomás of Aquino. Ordained a priest, took part at the Council of Basle (1432) in favor of the Pope and against the conciliarism. In 1437 he is sent to Constantinople with an embassy seeking the meeting of East and West churches. This mission gave him the opportunity to learn more about Greek philosophy, particularly that of Plato. Appointed Cardinal, it was representative of the Pope in various missions by Germany. He died in Todi (Umbria), in 1464.

His works are: Concordantia catholica (1433, work which defends the unity of the Catholic Church and the concordance of all Christian denominations), docta ignorantia (1440), coniecturis (1441), Apologia doctae ignorantiae (1449), idiot (1450), De visione Dei (1453), De potestate (1460), of beryllo (1458), Ludo globi (1460), De non aliud (1462), De venatione sapientiae (1463)Of Apex theoriae (1464).

Philosophical thought.

Nicolás de Cusa originality is in having managed to translate medieval neoplatonic tradition (Proclus, Dionisio Areopagita, SCOTUS Erigena, the school of Chartres) and the German mystical tradition (Eckhart), to the terms of the new humanistic culture. Its formulation of Platonism is the Socratic awareness of the limits of human knowledge. This ignorance, however, is learned, because rather than simply the terms of negative theology, opens to an endless search for the approximation to God. In his work De docta ignorantia, Cusa focuses his research on these three major issues: God, the world and the man and Jesus Christ. Raises, first of all, three types of knowledge: the senses (with those who know material objects), for the reason (with which the concepts are made) and intellect (which we have, aided by grace, to know God). It is here where the man discovers his impotence, which does not fit another thing humbly admit its limitation, for, then, take the task of boosting his powers. This called the learned ignorance, knowing that you know nothing. Our intellect just sensed God as infinite and as coincidence of opposites (oppositorum opositorum), such as unification of opposites. We know that opposites agree God, ensures Cusa, but we do not know how. Human intelligence in pursuit of the truth is comparable to a polygon inscribed in a circle: the greater the number of sides so much more will be close to the circle, but will never be identified with him. Something similar occurs with the man, who has reached or will never come to the full knowledge of the truth. However, the road to infinity is not us absolutely unavailable, because the finite is located at infinity in exemplary manner.

There is therefore an ideal perfection which created must be run. All things are in God in complicated way (complicatio) and that makes possible the existence of them in its variety. To say that the world is an "explanation" of God, it is to recognize your previous "involvement" (implicatio). Therefore, the world is a manifestation of God.

From these concepts, the Cusano reaches full rejection of the traditional Aristotelian cosmology. Pervaded with God and its image, the world has no limits, therefore cannot be attributed you a finite space or a single Center. Every celestial body is subjected to a continuous movement, although his movement can not be appreciated from another celestial body. In this way it anticipates the Copernican revolution. However, the existing world is the best possible. The man, on the other hand, is an individualized contraction of the cosmos, a microcosm, so that the entire universe is reflected in its individualization.

The thought of Cusa had great influence on Giordano Bruno, Leibniz (who will find in it the intuition of the Monads), and even Hegel and Blondel. From the 19th century historiography has recognized in Nicolás de Cusa a forerunner of modern philosophy.


COLOMER, e.: "Ramon Llull and Nicolás de Cusa." Test of synthesis", in thought, vol. XVII, 1961.

Racing and ARTAU, T. and j.: "influence of Ramon Llull in philosophical theological thinking of the XIV and XV centuries, acts I International Congress of Medieval philosophy, Louvain, 1960.

SANTINELLO, g.: Introduzzione n. di Cusa, Bari, 1971.